Friday, April 27, 2012

Emotional Blog Post

This picture is for a blog post I'm working on, which, when I think about it, amounts to therapy for me.

It's a picture of my old dog Finnegan the day she joined our family in the fall of 2001. A furry little wiggling ball of happiness. She got quite a bit bigger, but I don't think she ever lost that wiggling ball of happiness part of her.

It's taking me a long time to write the blog entry -- it's hard to type when everything goes blurry -- so I can't say exactly when it will finally be ready.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Humble, Tasty Samosa

I should be clear on one thing before I write anything else: I've never been to India.

I need to acknowledge this because it provides ample evidence that I've never eaten real Indian food. Food grown, prepared, and eaten in India. With some rare occasions where I've sample "authentic" Indian food prepared by Indians in North America, but on most occasions it's the North American restaurant version of Indian food. I don't know how the two compare but I thought I should disclose that single fact.

The samosa is very close to perfection as far as food goes. It's compact, easy to transport, full of goodness, can be modified to be as spicy or as mild as you want it to be, and a plate of samosas and a couple of cold Kingfishers brings the consumer as close to nirvana as one can get without bothering to collect any Virtues.

I'm ready for lunch just thinking about it.

There's just something about the way the ingredients all come together in a samosa -- potatoes, peas, cilantro, curry, mustard seed, onion, maybe green chilis, the crunchy deep-fried shell -- that sends my taste buds swooning. Served cold or hot, they're a delight. (Though, when they're served hot I tend to take my time eating them, simply because I'll burn my mouth if I gulp them down.)

If you've never tried a samosa, I'm not sure why you're still reading this. You should be standing in a line or sitting at a table telling your server you want an order of samosas.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Door Is Raised On The Embargo Garage

So, my review of Prototype 2 is now live -- right here! -- and after re-reading the text, I'm struck by something.

I love writing, but after about midnight my desire to write drops off considerably and I was still writing well after that. "Sleep!" replaces "Write!" quite easily but I pushed myself through to get the review finished (more or less) and uploaded before the embargo lifted at 6:00AM (Pacific) this morning. The embargo was originally scheduled to end on launch day, which would have afforded me a couple of days to write the review. And catch some more of the grammar and puctuation issues, such as the "it's" error in the opening paragraph.

Stuff like that bugs the hell out of me. The "it's" will weigh on my mind all day. Something so obvious should have been ironed out before I uploaded the review. But as my eyes droop and the minute hand has started to swoop upward once more and the hour hand is sliding toward the "2", my ability to see errors and or other problems wanes.

And with no editor, or even an extra set of alert eyes to scan through the review, I rely on my own skill with words to communicate how I feel about a game. But running against the clock...

Maybe coffee would have warded off the worst of it, but when I was done I wanted to just drop into bed and fall asleep. I didn't want to wrestle with caffeine. I do, after all, want to be able to function during daylight hours. (I'm at an age, where I can't easily brush off fatigue.)

At any rate, the review posted and I'm tired. But not too tired do some more editing on the review. (The score still stands.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Prototype 2 - CRISIS!

Punch-Out!! was developed by
Vancouver-based Next Level Games
Well, it's not so much a "crisis" as it is a question of "ethics" as it pertains to reviewing Prototype 2.

I don't think it's ever been a secret that I'm a booster of game development in Vancouver (British Columbia). I'm glad that games get made here, and a lot of them are good or even very good. I don't think it has ever clouded my judgement when it comes to reviewing titles that get made here, but with Prototype 2 I've at least asked myself the question because of a recent multi-part feature I wrote that focused on the history of Radical Entertainment, the developers of Prototype 2.

I got to know some people that work there and made some casual acquaintances -- people I'd stop and chat with outside the context of visiting a game studio -- so is my judgement clouded by that? Having met some of the people that poured so much time and effort into Prototype 2 is my reaction to playing the game somehow being affected by that? That's a question that a full-time Managing Editor or Editor in Chief would be examining to see if I should be reviewing Prototype 2. But The Armchair Empire lacks those roles.

If anything, I fufill both those roles.

However, the question -- can I review this with any objectivity? -- has made me think seriously about what I think about when I'm playing games.

For the most part, I'm pretty good at blocking out anything approaching Real Life. I'm not thinking about the demands of my day job, my mortgage, and all those day-to-day horrors that tend to stalk a mind that thinks too much. I'm not thinking about Radical Entertainment or the fact my commute takes me passed their building every morning -- they really need to fix the lighting for the "RA" -- or the fact that maybe I should be getting to bed right about now. Video games don't help me forget the pressures and stresses I'm feeling, but they do a great job pausing them.

So, I'm reviewing Prototype 2 secure in the knowledge that I can give an honest evaluation of the title. When I'm playing games, I'm in the moment and my focus is on the game and not on much else.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Interviews: Then and Now

In the first three to five years of The Armchair Empire's glorious existence, one of my favourite aspects was snagging interviews. And it was so, so simple. I'd send an email to someone -- Jeff Green, Bruce Campbell, Al Lowe, Tim Schafer -- via their official site or some readily available email address, we'd connect, I'd send some questions, they'd answer them, etc.

If you've been paying attention, Interviews have really trickled off on the site -- we haven't posted a new one since December 2010! -- and there are two reasons.

Al Lowe
Time or lack thereof, plays into it, but mostly it's lack of response from the other side. Most developers have a layer of "protection" from people like me, people that want to know things that maybe are only tangentially related video games or the current project. We line things up as best we can and fire a salvo of questions only to have them drop out of the sky for unexplained reasons or just completely vanish with absolutely no echo. A couple of follow-up emails or phone calls later and still no response... my time is more precious to me than that. I'm not willing to hound people.

There's also the fact many developers and publishers have cultivated their own outlets -- blogs, Facebook, Twitter, official sites -- that eliminate the need for any "middle man" source. They pose the questions and they answer the questions. Control is important in this case -- there's very little room for a game journalist to plan for a "Gotcha!" moment that fools some game developer into explaining what's really on his or her mind.

For those moments we have to wait until someone comes unhinged or says something on Twitter they shouldn't have or spouts off at a live panel discussion, where the layer of PR/Marketing messaging is thinnest, mostly, I think, because the PR/Marketing handlers are stopped from rushing the platform.

Anyway, I kind of lament the stagnation of our Interviews section. It's probably time to be more aggressive getting interviews, likely from the indie games crowd who have no layer of PR.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Syndicate: Gunplay that is Ammo-tastic!

Starbreeze and EA recently released Syndicate and, from what I understand, it flopped at retail and received mixed reviews. It has been sitting on my "To Review" pile for a while. It got pushed to the bottom by SSX and Mass Effect 3 (two more EA properties) so I'm a little behind the curve on this but, man, is that gunplay ever satisfying.

There's something about the way the guns are animated, the sound and kickback when they're firing, that feels so good.

It's entirely possible that coming off 27 hours of Mass Effect 3 gunplay might have something to do with it. In comparison to Syndicate, Mass Effect 3 is mostly about pop and potatoe guns.
When a gun is fired in Syndicate there's much more report and it's much more, more... what's that cliched term? More visceral.

I'm only a couple hours in so it might well fall off the rails. But I don't think the source material has suffered anything moving from the isometric view of the original games to the more in-your-face nature of a first-person shooter.

I should admit that I got a pretty solid nostalgia hit after spinning up the minigun for the first time. The sound was indentical (in my memory) to when I was ordering around my agents in the origical tactical/strategy game back in 1993.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Hard Reset: Extended Edition" Early Impressions

Hard Reset showed up in my mailbox unannounced and even though the game has been out for a while -- original release was September 13, 2011 -- I didn't know anything about it, so I went into the experience completely blind.

A couple hours in and it's safe to say it plays in same neighbourhood as Painkiller and Serious Sam and the early Doom games, only with a cyber/sci-fi sensibility.

Enemies most often run straight at you with no regard for tactics or cover. They simply converge. And, at least so far, it typically happens in some kind of "kill room" where the entrance slams shut the moment you enter the area and the exit won't open until you've killed everything that moves. Aim's important, of course, but Hard Reset also includes plenty of exploding barrels and electro-shock outlets to activate for at least some kind of planning to slow the attack of the robotic horde.

The graphic novel "cutscenes" got me thinking of the classic Dynamix title "Rise of the Dragon." But that's about all they've done so far.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Our Carelessness / Their Secret Weapon"

mass effect 3

A very special Armchair Empire Easter weekend / PAX East update for you, dear reader, lover of the written word and cuddler of properly-used commas.

Just in case you missed them the first time around we posted some Reviews:
And of course, if you're not so hot for the written word and you go out of your way to split an infinitive whenever the opportunity arises, but sure to check The Armchair Empire's YouTube channel, featuring old and new games with plenty of commentary from Mr. Nash.

I'll be joining Mr. Nash for some upcoming commentary so stay tuned!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

3rd One Down

"I've been meaning to ask," Mitchell started, "what's with the beer can utility belt? I've known you for years and you always have three cans of Red's Brew attached to you but I've never seen you actually drink beer. Ever."

Aloysius Gunn scratched the back of his neck, pausing, thinking about the best way to explain the beer. Somewhere from the south a train sounded at a crossing.

"You know how Popeye eats all that spinach and gives him super powers?" Aloysius said. "It's like that. Only with beer. And my powers are unpredictable. And I don't remember what happens after I drink the third one. But it's usually an appropriate response of some kind."

Mitchell raised an eyebrow. "How strong is that beer?"

"Oh, it's not what you think." Aloysius stood up. "When I turned 19, I hit the bar with a few friends. What a night! At least the part I remember... until my third can of Red. That's when I blacked out. It's not strong beer, at all, but it did something to me. Friends took video and pictures of me doing... things. Unexplainable things. Things I don't remember at all, no inkling. Dancing on the ceiling, juggling an entire rack of pool balls while spinning cues with my feet while my entire skeleton glowed through my skin..."

"That's, uh," Mitchell struggled to find the right word. This somehow deserved comment.

"People loved it, thought it was some kind of marketing gimmick or something, even when the videos were uploaded to YouTube, whatnot, no one believed it. Even when I moved outside and started bouncing off buildings like a rubber ball and dancing on a succession of moving cars and trucks while the theme from that old Mission: Impossible show played out of every manhole and window within three blocks... It was weird seeing it after the fact. But still, people chalked up the story to a buncha drunk college kids playing a prank."

"So, uh," Mitchell was still struggling. "Why the three cans?"

"Just in case something happens."

Mitchell waited a beat to see if Aloysius would keep talking. Something sounded ominous, especially when Aloysius squinted and stared into the middle distance like he was doing at that moment.

The real answer came when the new barn the pair had been painting unexpectedly exploded in a shrapnel cloud of splinters.

"Something like this," Aloysius said, the first can of Red already on its way to his mouth. "Better get on the hell out of here, Mitchell. I'll take care of this."

Mitchell turned and ran. Not so much on Aloysius' advice but on the reason for the barn explosion. A huge scaly worm-like beast with tentacles and mandibles, and rows and rows of eyes had shattered the barn. And it looked like it might be gearing up to unleash fire or possibly radiation from its gargantuan maw. Mitchell ran across the yard, turned sharply at the combine and headed down the driveway to the main road.

Aloysius finished the third beer and blacked out.

The ground rolled and sent Mitchell staggering to his knees. He looked back to see a giant figure, covered in slate armour pounding the nightmare into the ground. The giant clamped its impossibly huge hands around the worm and there was a flash and shockwave that sent Mitchell rolling into the drainage ditch.

Then there was silence for a full minute before Mitchell clawed his way up the embankment. A dark cloud of smoke was being carried by the wind and what was left of the yard was covered in gore and viscera but there was no sign of the worm or the giant or Aloysius.

Mitchell walked at a steady pace back to the yard. The combine was ruined, the farm house covered in ooze on the west side, and everything else... well, it was a scene of destruction. Mitchell's mind wandered to his insurance policy.

Aloysius' smoking body was at the bottom of the crater but he was still breathing, coughing out the words again and again, "3rd one down, 3rd one down."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Weekly Checkpoint on AE's YouTube Channel

The Armchair Empire's Mr. Nash takes a look at the latest happenings in the gaming industry for the week of March 25 - 31, 2012.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mass Effect 3 - Part 5 *SPOILERS*

SPOILERS AHEAD for the ending of Mass Effect 3!

Still reading?

So aside from suffering further rounds of "homage" and Easter Eggs -- "The first shuttle is away!" Yay! -- the ending, at least the ending I experienced, concluded with Shepherd saving the galaxy by blowing everything and anything to hell. The Ghost Child in Shepherd's Max Payne-like nightmares that turned out to be "The Catalyst" tells Shepherd flatly that all robotic life will be wiped out if she puts a few well-placed shots into a crazily exposed conduit. And because Shepherd has a bit of robot about her, it means her destruction as well.

That's what Shepherd came to do. Put an end to the Reapers. And in the process mimic some scenes from LOST.

It came as a bit of a surprise that the destruction of the Reapers and all the mass effect relays basically destroyed the galaxy. (This is something I predicated in a previous blog.) It was a bit of a, "Wait, what?" reaction on my part. In my head I imagined all the Reaper tech just shutting down and collapsing in a heap all over the galaxy. Cue the inter-species celebrations, ticker tape parade, and medal ceremony. Nope. Earth's surface is essentially "glassed" and Joker just maybe got the Normandy far enough away from the explosion to fight another day.

The ending wasn't enough to make me want to send BioWare cupcakes or file an FTC complaint or just go crazy with a "That's not how it should have ended! Those leftist feminist ruin everything!" diatribe. If anything, the ending kind of made me sad that I predicted the end of the game -- the close out of a trilogy -- only a couple hours into the third chapter. I wanted a surprise, a real smack to the face, from BioWare. Something that would have been unexpected (along the lines of Jade Empire characters saving the day). It makes sense from a trilogy standpoint to end things so definitively but it did kind of undermine the entirety of the struggle in the trilogy: trying to save organic life in the galaxy. After all that, the Reapers won!

Granted, my ending was one of (supposedly) 7 different endings, some where everyone survives and Earth isn't vaporized. But I'm not sure I want to dive back in again after witnessing the end of the galaxy, particularly because it means scavenging space for War Assets, which isn't actually that fun.

When the game "ends" it re-launches Shepherd into the last part of the game where she's about to assault the Illusive Man's hideout. But I think I'm done at this point. I already destroyed the galaxy once, why do I need to do it again?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mass Effect 3 - Report 4

I'm definitely zeroing in on the final moments of Mass Effect 3 -- I've finally returned to Earth, which amazingly has not been completely obliterated (for a pretty limp reason) -- and it makes me realize how badly I miss space combat games along the lines of Wing Commander and X-Wing/Tie-Fighter.

There's this great scene between two massive assemblies of ships above Earth that made my gamer heart pang for the days when Hobbes was revealed to be a traitor and when transport #7 was that one that needed to be disabled with ion fire.

And now that I'm zeroing in on the final push, I realize just how hard I pushed through the story of the game rather than meandering around the ship talking to my squad. It wasn't but two missions before that trek home that I figured out where I could upgrade my weapons! And, man, did that ever come in handy. Suddenly enemies were turned into tin cans and even the toughest enemies, the Atlas mech, were hardly any effort with a Claymore shotgun upgraded to level 5. It makes me wonder what else I missed along the way. What other bit of space weaponry did I miss? Extra powers? Side missions?